Monday, 23 January 2017

Provision, Criterion and Practice under the Equality Act

Does the recent case of the disabled wheelchair user[i] who could not access the disabled space on a bus, because someone else had their sleeping child in that space, affect churches?

The answer is yes. Although we are not talking about vehicular access, we are most certainly speaking about any Provision Criterion and Practice (PCP) a church may have in place, not necessarily written, but by ‘custom and practice’. The PCP is required by the Equality Act,[ii] which as a statutory requirement all churches must follow.

As such does a church make ample room for disabled people, particularly thinking about, in this short essay, wheelchair users? Does your church inform wheelchair users that they have to place themselves at the front of the church, or at the back? Also, to clear up an issue that I have come across several times; are wheelchair informed that they cannot sit in the isles because of health and safety (fire) risk? Wheelchair users do not, at least in my experience, spontaneously combust. But of course, if you have a procession at the beginning, and at the end of your service, this may well impact on spaces available if you have a narrow isle.

Using a very good practice developed in health and safety management it is far better to design the problem out – no not barring disabled people from the church! But rather creating spaces in the church where a wheelchair user can sit by family or friends, which may entail moving some chairs out of the way – or heaven forbid – shortening pew lengths![iii]

More generally, consider the provision of disabled access toilets ‘in’ the church. Some disabled people need to use toilets more than others, this may be a barrier to some people using your church. The provision of ramp access to the church, and also the altar rails if people are expected to ‘go up for communion’. Do be careful with ramps, they should only be seen as temporary measures until a permanent ramp is installed. The placing of a ramps then getting it up after the disabled person has accessed the building means you are undertaking manual handling, which is – I can assure you – risky, and not lawful if allowed to become a permanent tool. It is worth noting that ramps are not just for wheelchair users but also other people who have mobility issues. These all amount to PCP’s.
As a wheelchair user I have found myself waiting at a church door until someone came along to put out the ramp for me. I was troubled by the thought that, if there was ever a reason to evacuate I would, along with all who have mobility issues, placed at a distinct disad

[i] Firstgroup Plc (Respondent) v Paulley (Appellant) [2017] UKSC 4
[ii] Equality Act 2010 (Ch.15)
[iii] But do remember if you are Church of England you will need a faculty.
Cite this article as: Fr. Jeffrey A.Leach.CBV, " Provision, Criterion and Practice under the Equality Act" in Disabling Barriers to Church Blog, 23 January 2017,

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